Easy Riders? Congestion Eases As Covid-19 Keeps Commuters Off The Roads

Easy Riders? Congestion Eases As Covid-19 Keeps Commuters Off The Roads

As Petula Clark’s 1964 hit single “Downtown” suggests, “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go downtown.” Problem is, fewer people “listen to the music of the traffic in the city” these days. Central city travel in major U.S. metropolitan areas is down by an average 22 percent due largely to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the 2021 Global Traffic Scorecard just released by the connected car services company INRIX in Kirkland, WA, Americans wasted an average of 36 hours last year due to highway congestion, though that’s considerably lower than 2019’s pre-pandemic 97 hours sitting in traffic. The Scorecard is based on a study of congestion and mobility trends among more than 1,000 cities, across 50 countries, including the 50 most populated U.S. metropolitan areas.

But not all urban areas saw dwindling travel times last year. While commuters heading into Washington, D.C. saw their traffic jams dwindle by a whopping 65 percent during 2019—the largest drop among major U.S. cities—passage into Las Vegas, NV increased by 76 percent over pre-pandemic statistics. Clearly folks working at our nation’s capital have more opportunities to work at home than do hotel and casino employees.

Travel times among the most congested commutes in the nation continue to be dominated by the largest cities, including Chicago, IL (at 104 annual hours), New York, NY (102 hours), and Philadelphia, PA (90 hours) though motorists driving to those burgs still saw their average travel times drop by 27 to 37 percent below 2019 levels. 

“Covid-19’s impact on transportation has continued through 2021, transforming when, where and how people move,” says Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Although congestion climbed 28 percent this year, Americans still saved 63 hours compared to normal, with the most notable change to commuting during the pandemic being the lack of downtown travel.” Closed offices, restaurants, and entertainment venues caused the most significant reductions in downtown travel during 2020 in Portland, OR (down 66 percent), San Francisco, CA (60 percent), Washington, D.C. (60 percent), Detroit, MI (59 percent), and Boston, MA (56 percent).

Still, Americans have relatively easy commutes compared to some their international comrades. Even considering there were fewer rides on the road across Europe during 2020, London motorists suffer the worst congestion in the world with an average 148 hours lost last year going nowhere fast, followed by Paris (140 hours), Brussels (134 hours), and Moscow (108 hours).

INRIX predicts that while traffic jams will continue to be the bane of commuters’ existence, it’s not likely congestion in U.S. metropolitan areas will return to pre-COVID levels any time soon. The continuation of telecommuting policies, pandemic paranoia, altered school and university schedules, among other factors, is expected to moderate increased travel times during 2022.

Here’s the 10 worst cities in the U.S. for traffic tie-ups according to the 2021 INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, with average annual times spent in traffic per motorist noted:

  1. Chicago, IL: 104 hours 
  2. New York City, NY: 102 hours
  3. Philadelphia, PA: 90 hours
  4. Boston, MA: 78 hours 
  5. Miami, FL: 66 hours
  6. San Francisco, CA: 64 hours 
  7. New Orleans, LA: 63 hours
  8. Los Angeles, CA: 62 hours 
  9. Houston, TX: 58 hours
  10. Atlanta, GA: 53 hours

Here ars the 10 most congested stretches of road in U.S. with the average time lost moving at a snail’s pace last year:

  1. Los Angeles, CA: I-5 from Euclid to I-605; 89 hours
  2. New York, NY: I-278 BQE from I-495 to Tillary St; 77 hours
  3. Orlando, FL: I-4 West from Beachline Expy to FL-429; 74 hours
  4. Bridgeport, CT: I-95 CT Turnpike North. from Unquowa Rd to NY-8; 72 hours
  5. Dublin, CA: I-580 East from Foothill Rd to Airway Blvd; 62 hours
  6. Stamford, CT: I-95 North from Riverside Ave to Hillspoint Rd; 61 hours
  7. Orlando, FL: US-17 South from US-192 to The Oaks Blvd; 59 hours
  8. Miami FL: I-95 Express North from I-195 to 51st St; 57 hours
  9. New York, NY: I-95 Cross Bronx Expy South from I-278 to Arthur Blvd; 55 hours
  10. Los Angeles, CA: I-10 Santa Monica Freeway East from Washington Blvd to I-110; 54 hours

You can read the full 2021 INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard findings here.